Venom admittedly gets off to somewhat of a rickety start, but it’s in these awkward moments that the film lays the groundwork for its unusual overall nature — and very well may lose many viewers in the process.
Flawed investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) isn’t the typical comic book character and centering his conflict on a commitment to exposing hard truths versus remaining loyal to those who love him — in this case, fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) — may be basic “this or that” Marvel storytelling, but it feels more fleshed out and shaggier (in a good way) than the studio’s usual hero dilemma.
On a collision course with Eddie, the crash of a spacecraft carrying important samples, controversial testing by the Elon Musk-like Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and the moral conundrums of Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) are developed well enough to propel the story forward and encourage audience investment, and the biology-gone-wild design of the symbiote being tested in the lab is just weird enough to want to see more.
Venom really takes off, however, when the titular alien pairs with Eddie. Like Upgrade’s A.I., it speaks to its host and can control his actions — a handy feature when Drake dispatches his army to retrieve his missing specimen.
Entertaining fights and chase sequences follow, enacted through slick special effects and steady camerawork under the guidance of director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), but it’s the banter between Eddie and the titular visitor that gives the film its distinct personality. The funny, often random things said by each echo a classic vaudeville duo and allow Hardy to display an exciting, awkward comedic side rarely seen from the often serious actor.
The chatter is sure to fall flat for plenty of moviegoers, and the sudden appearances of another symbiote’s master plan and a crucial decision by Venom don’t help matters, but an epic climactic battle does, along with the set-up for a sequel with a character more appealing than anyone introduced in an Avengers film tag scene.
Charming in its messiness, Venom joins the ranks of Thor: Ragnarok and The Guardians of the Galaxy movies as welcome wackos under the Marvel banner, even though — true to its outsider vibe — it’s technically a Sony product.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)